Deadly cold spreads across Europe; Cold weather in store for U.S.?

By: Angela Fritz , 20:17 GMT le 31 janvier 2012

Deadly cold weather has spread across central and eastern Europe, and is expected to continue through the end of the week. At least 60 people have died from the bitter cold overnight temperatures, which reached as low as -20°C (-4°F) Monday night. The BBC is reporting that "more than 600 people have sought treatment for frostbite and hypothermia." Typically, the elderly and low-income population are hardest hit by extreme temperatures (cold or heat), and such is the case in Europe this week.

Alaska has also been in weather news, after a wave of extremely cold temperatures over the weekend (even for our northern-most state). This past Friday and Saturday nights were record-setting for Alaska, as Jeff writes in his blogs:

Friday night and Saturday night, temperatures plummeted to -50°F and -51°F in Fairbanks, marking the first time since 1999 the city had seen back-to-back minus fifty nights. The low temperature so far today at the Fairbanks International Airport has been -44°F, giving the city sixteen days of -40°F temperatures so far this month. Since 1906, there have only been three years (1906, 1934, and 1971) with more 40 below days during the month of January. At forty below zero, the air is so cold that the water vapor condenses out into ice crystals, which float in the air creating a low-visibility fog.

According to the Fairbanks weather office, here are the likely final rankings for January temperatures at select locations in Alaska during 2012:

Nome: coldest
Kotzebue: 2nd coldest
Barrow: not in top ten coldest
Galena: coldest
Bettles: coldest
Fairbanks: 5th coldest (coldest since 1971)

Our Weather Historian Christopher C. Burt also wrote a blog on the -79°F controversy from Jim River, Alaska.

In December, we were reporting that the lower-48's unseasonably warm weather and lack of snow was due to a particularly positive Arctic Oscillation (AO) index. The Arctic Oscillation is a measure of the jet stream's strength. A positive AO is a stronger than average jet stream, and it tends to keep cold air bottled up in the Arctic. During a positive AO, the Arctic is colder than average, and the mid-latitudes are warmer than average. In December and early January, the AO was positive. In mid-January, the AO went negative (Figure 1), which we expect to have the opposite impact. A weak jet steam means cold, Arctic air can escape to the south, and that's what we've been seeing in Europe this week.

Figure 1. The Arctic Oscillation index has been extremely positive for most of this winter, until it made a dramatic shift to negative in mid-January.

Figure 2. The 8-14 day temperature forecast from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. Blue is below-normal, orange/red is above normal.

So what does this mean for the rest of winter? Hard to say. To add another acronym to the mix, I introduce the Pacific/North American oscillation (PNA). The PNA, which is a measure of the strength of highs and lows over the Pacific Ocean and North America, also changed in mid-January from negative to positive. A positive PNA tends to favor winter-like weather in the South, Southeast, and Eastern United States. In terms of precipitation, it's a mixed bag. In a positive PNA, the Pacific Northwest sees above-average precipitation, but the Midwest tends to see below-average precipitation.

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (Figure 2) is guessing that over the next few weeks, the Southeast will see below-average temperatures, and the Northwest, including Alaska, will see above-average. This is more of the same for most of the Western states, but Alaska will probably enjoy the reprieve. Whether the U.S. will see a big snow event before winter ends is still up in the air. It will probably get cold enough for a little while, but the question will be whether a moisture-rich storm comes along to take advantage of wintry temperatures that could appear in the east and southeast states.

Mixed emotions on this year's Winter weather

As expected, there are mixed emotions about this year's Winter weather. Some love it, some hate it. Personally, I love a good snow storm. However, being in San Francisco, I know I'm not going to get that in any year.





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12. Angela Fritz , Atmospheric Scientist
16:49 GMT le 20 Mars 2012
Quoting presslord:
How do climate change denialists pluralize the word "Anecdote"?


I just heard this the other day, but in reverse: The singular of "data" is "anecdote."

I like it.
Member Since: 2 mai 2011 Posts: 57 Comments: 636
11. presslord
03:20 GMT le 17 Mars 2012
How do climate change denialists pluralize the word "Anecdote"?

Member Since: 13 août 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10538
10. Angela Fritz , Atmospheric Scientist
17:50 GMT le 13 Mars 2012
Quoting presslord:
Angela....I'm just curious....Do you happen to know where the president-elect of the American Meteorological Society directs the Atmospheric Sciences Program? Link

Hmm, yeah that's tough to justify. ;)
Member Since: 2 mai 2011 Posts: 57 Comments: 636
9. Angela Fritz , Atmospheric Scientist
17:49 GMT le 13 Mars 2012
Actually I've been busy developing a new climate section for the site. Unfortunately this leaves little time for blogging right now, but I think that will change soon!
Member Since: 2 mai 2011 Posts: 57 Comments: 636
8. Ossqss
03:52 GMT le 13 Mars 2012

So,,,,, you got disappeared because of this post on cold weather ? No Bias on this site eh?
Member Since: 12 juin 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8203
6. presslord
19:00 GMT le 05 Mars 2012
Angela....I'm just curious....Do you happen to know where the president-elect of the American Meteorological Society directs the Atmospheric Sciences Program? Link
Member Since: 13 août 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10538
5. iceagecoming
14:26 GMT le 16 février 2012
Record cold going strong and casualties mount, better cold prep in order for Europe.
Member Since: 27 janvier 2009 Posts: 26 Comments: 1159
4. BaltimoreBrian
17:19 GMT le 07 février 2012
Tripoli thundersnow!

Member Since: 9 août 2011 Posts: 27 Comments: 12281
3. airman45
07:11 GMT le 03 février 2012
It is very cold here in western Germany. It was -15C (5F) this morning (Stuttgart) and should drop a little more during the weekend. However, prior to this it was a VERY mild and almost snowless winter, in stark contrast to last year.

These Siberian high pressure systems will anchor in place for more than a week, giving us an extremely cold easterly flow. Until the flow shifts back to westerly the cold air will stay in place.

Predictions are at least 5 more days of subfreezing temps.
Member Since: 2 avril 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 3514
2. presslord
21:27 GMT le 31 janvier 2012
I've seen girls in bikini's out here at Folly Beach off and on all month....Alaska is welcome to keep the cold...
Member Since: 13 août 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10538
1. Patrap
20:20 GMT le 31 janvier 2012
Dumping Giga-ton's of Pollutants into the Atmosphere from the Burning of Fossil Fuel's 24/7/365 days a year well,..

There are consequences.

Member Since: 3 juillet 2005 Posts: 439 Comments: 137215

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